Pentagon demands California National Guard members return bonuses

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That’s not even the worst of it. The want to charge the soldiers interest on it as well. The bonuses are $15,000 or more and with interest added on some soldiers and veterans have said they had to take out second mortgages or they have emptied out their savings to comply.

According to various reports from the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post and NBC News, this has been going on since 2010 when the Pentagon did an audit and found that many of the bonuses had faulty paperwork or in some cases, the guard members did not qualify for the bonuses. Regardless of the Pentagon’s findings, the soldiers either enlisted or re-enlisted in good faith to receive the bonuses, between 2006-07. Part of the deal was that had to service a tour in Afghanistan, even if they had already served multiple tours there and in Iraq.

Apparently the management of the California National Guard mis-managed the enlistment program. In other words, the troops are being forced to pay for the screw-ups by management.

Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are condemning the action and several are calling on the Pentagon to stop this outrageous act and return all the money collected so far. If the Pentagon thinks there is fraud they should investigate it case-by-case, not penalize every soldier that re-enlisted or enlisted to get the bonus.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in a statement, “It is disgraceful that the men and women who answered their country’s call to duty following September 11 are now facing repayments of bonuses offered to them. Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters’ faults from over a decade ago. They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country.” He further stated, “[the] House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.”

In an open letter to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, California Senators Diane Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) wrote, “Dear Secretary Carter:

“We were dismayed to learn that nearly 10,000 service members, including many brave Californians who served our country with honor and distinction over multiple combat tours, have been ordered to pay back enlistment bonuses and other benefits that they were given nearly a decade ago. This is unfair and appalling and we request that you halt the collection of these bonuses immediately.

“Thousands of our service members are paying the price for mistakes made by California National Guard managers, some of whom are now serving jail time or paying restitution for their crimes. It is outrageous to hold these service members and their families responsible for the illegal behavior of others.

“These men and women voluntarily reenlisted with the understanding that they would receive substantial bonuses. They accepted these incentive payments in good faith and at the height of the Iraq War, when the Department was having difficulty retaining service members. Many of these individuals paid a heavy price for their service – including severe injuries sustained after reenlisting. Now they are facing interest charges, wage garnishment, tax liens, and other penalties.

“Many service members have sought relief, only to have their appeals rejected. We believe the Department of Defense should use its existing authority under 37 USC 303a(e) to waive the repayment of these enlistment bonuses. We agree that seeking to claw back these payments from those who served our country ‘would be against equity and good conscience’ and ‘would be contrary to the best interests of the United States.’ We also request that you take action to help those service members who have already fully or partially repaid these incentives.

“We look forward to your prompt response and to working with you to quickly resolve this pressing issue.”

If you live in California — or even if you don’t — find your representative(s) and tell them to stop this abuse.

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UPDATE, OCT. 26: Early Wednesday morning Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend the collection of bonuses from current and former National Guard members who the military claims were improperly paid those bonuses,
In a statement Carter said the process for soldiers and veterans to appeal the collections was too slow and that, “We will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own.” Carter added, “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

For many veterans groups and their supporters that is not enough. If a guard member re-enlisted for the bonus, without knowing they were ineligible for that bonus, they should not be required to repay it now, nine or ten years after the fact. They signed those enlistment and re-enlistment papers in good faith and the Pentagon should honor the commitment of the service members and veterans and take steps to remedy the problems in their command structure.

Top photo courtesy of the California National Guard Facebook page.